Despite the title of this blog, I haven’t actually written many posts about the ornaments (or “ordiments”) in the Usmeum. So here is a Christmassy story about some of them.
One Christmas when I was about 15 my parents gave me money instead of a gift, for me to choose my own. They were surprised when I spent the money on these two Beswick porcelain ponies for my treasured collection of “ordiments”, and clearly disappointed, as they hoped I had outgrown such interests by then. I hadn’t; in fact, I was devastated to wake up and find no stocking at the end of my bed that Christmas morning as they had decided I was too old for Santa (or Father Christmas, as we called him then). I was still clinging on to childhood with all my might and, although of course I hadn’t actually believed in the myth for many years, I still relished the traditional stocking with its treats and sweets and tangerine and a shiny penny. And I chose my ponies, from a homeware shop in Sheen, with loving care: I thought the Welsh Mountain pony and Highland pony were the most lifelike of the Beswick collection in the shop. Looking at them now, I hate to think what the rest of the models were like if these were the most lifelike – the eyes are especially disturbing and nothing like a real horse’s. Cobweb and Sinbad, as I named them, bear the usual scars and injuries of any china animal that shared a home with our resident flesh and blood animal: Frisky was a cat who would never walk across a floor if there was furniture to be jumped on instead, regardless of whatever fragile items may be placed on said furniture. Sinbad has lost his ears but Cobweb’s have been re-attached by our resident horse surgeon (my Dad; see some of his other handiwork here).
The following year, Mum and Dad conceded defeat and bought me this china Arab foal, which I note is stamped “Made in the USSR” so was probably bought there on a trip or at a local Communist Party fundraiser. I was thrilled with my present, which I named Albatross, and treasured it for years. I know it’s a tacky thing, but I am still fond of it.
I have kept these objects for purely sentimental reasons, as they are not the kind of thing I would buy today. So I did grow out of it eventually, although, I’m embarrassed to recall now, these ornaments followed me to my first flat when I left home at 18. I must have been so attached to them I couldn’t leave them behind with the rest of my childhood. In recent years I was half hoping my nieces might develop similar fixations to my childhood horse obsession, so that I could pass these treasures on to them, but (luckily for them) they never did.
Another year, I was thrilled to receive riding lessons for Christmas. I was horse mad but riding was so expensive in London, this was a really special gift. And it gave my Dad another opportunity to exercise his artistic skills, as I was reminded when I found this envelope in the archives:
Everyone knew I collected china animals, so I often received them at Christmas. This one was a surprise gift from one of my brothers, I forget which, but the surprise was that it was such an unusually thoughtful gift. I always liked its cheeky grin and I think I called it Tweetypie after the cartoon character:
I had hundreds of “ordiments” but I have only kept the ones that are most precious to me, because they remind me of of a special time or place or, in most cases, person. These tacky trinkets are part of the thread that connects me to my past, to my childhood, and to those loved ones who have passed on. Christmas is a poignant time for remembering my parents, and other relatives and friends, and these little mementos help to bring them back to me. I will be writing some more posts about the “ordiments” in the new year.